By THOMAS FLOYD
Matt Besler, if nothing else, sure has stayed busy this summer.
The Sporting Kansas City centerback has been there for his team's surge back to first place. He also was a stalwart for the club's run to the U.S. Open Cup title, playing all 120 minutes and converting a penalty kick in the final earlier this month. Just a few days later, he received his first call-up to the U.S. national team and dressed for the Americans' historic win in Mexico.
And just to keep things interesting, he squeezed an emergency appendectomy into his schedule in June.
As Besler put it, "It's been very eventful."
The operation turned out to be merely a speed bump for the 25-year-old, who was back in action after missing just three games. In MLS play, Besler has followed up his All-Star 2011 campaign with another steady season, making 22 appearances for a 14-7-4 Kansas City team on pace to top the Eastern Conference for the second straight year.
With a league-best 22 goals allowed in 25 matches, Kansas City has used a top-to-bottom defensive philosophy preached by coach Peter Vermes and keyed by Besler to make scoring on Sporting a dubious proposition.
"That was one of my goals coming in as a defender — I wanted to have the best defense in the league," Besler said. "I wanted to give up the fewest goals. We're right there where we want to be with that goal."
Anchoring that defense has been the partnership of Besler and Aurelien Collin. With the bruising Frenchman doing the dirty work and Besler providing a more tactically conscience presence, the duo has developed into arguably the league's top centerback pairing.
"Obviously, Aurelien Collin gets a lot of the attention based on his style of play," Kansas City left back Seth Sinovic said. "But Besler is the perfect balance to him as a centerback because Aurelien's a little bit more of the aggressor and takes all the chances, and Besler keeps everything in check."
Added Besler: "If there's a ball in between us, we know he should probably go up and win it because he's very good in the air. I'll be the cover guy. I like to have the field in front of me and I like to kind of read the game and organize the defense."
Two weeks ago, shortly after Kansas City defeated the Seattle Sounders in penalty kicks for the U.S. Open Cup crown, Vermes called Besler into his office to tell the fourth-year player that U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann had taken notice of his play.
After being disappointed by his omission from the U.S. camp held in January, Besler before he knew it was not only sporting the red, white and blue — he was doing so at Mexico's legendary Estadio Azteca. Although he didn't play in the 1-0 U.S. win, Besler relished taking in the result that ended the Americans' 0-23-1 drought in Mexico.
"It was awesome to be a part of the team that made history," Besler said. "But at the same time, my goal is not just to get called in and be on the bench. That's great, but down the road, I'd love to get called in and really make a difference and be a part of the team on the field."
The call-up came just two months after Besler woke up in the middle of the night to an intense pain in his side, drove to the hospital and promptly had surgery to remove his appendix.
The June 8 operation gave the Kansas native a new appreciation for a physical element he previously had taken for granted: his core strength.
"That was hard," Besler recalled. "I recovered from the surgery in about a week, but I literally lost all of my core strength. It took another week or two to get that back. You never realize how important that is having that until you don't have it."
It was fitting, then, that Kansas City got its core strength back once Besler revived his. The club allowed an uncharacteristic five goals in Besler's three-game absence, but matters stabilized for Sporting with the squad's safety valve back churning along in central defense.
"If I'm going to be aggressive and close somebody down and I get beat, I know he's always in the right spot," Sinovic said. "It's huge for the back four, just knowing that he's going to bring that consistent presence and comfort."